TV’s favourite artisan baker, Paul Hollywood has been impressing the nation with his culinary skills for years, leading the way at some of the UK’s most exclusive hotels before venturing on to our screens.
As a judge on the much talked about hit BBC One competition, ‘The Great British Bake Off’ alongside fellow expert Mary Berry, the Wirral culinary expert recently brought the latest series to a close crowning contestant Nancy Birtwhistle as the winner.
As he now focuses on his 2014 ‘British Baking Live Tour’, we caught up with Paul for a chat about the programme’s rapid rise to success, his ‘Bake Off’ highlights and his own favourite recipes.
You’re bringing your live show to Liverpool in November 2014. What can people expect when they come along?
I’ll come on and do four recipes – a couple of Christmas ones and then another two recipes. Then I’m going to get people involved by coming up on stage to help me and in the last bit I’m going to set up a challenge for four bakers to come on stage. They’ve basically got to do as good as I do and then the audience will pick a winner. They don’t know they’re going to be picked! Then people can fire questions at me about baking all through the night.
And it’s a bit of a homecoming experience for you isn’t it?
This one is. I did Manchester in May because I did the first part of the tour then, and I think the closest I went was Manchester Palace Theatre. I wanted to go to Liverpool or the Floral Pavilion or somewhere like that but they weren’t available at the time, so now I’m finally getting the chance to go to Liverpool.
It’s a live and interactive show, which sounds like it could be quite a nerve wracking and unpredictable. What has the experience been like so far?
I enjoy it, it’s been really good fun. The people have been fantastic and it’s been packed out every night which is great news. It’s just when I initially walk out and see everybody I think ‘woah’! It is incredible and it’s a real privilege to do it, it’s just such a buzz.
The latest series of Great British Bake Off has recently ended. Are you surprised by what the response to that show has been like?
We started off with about 3 million viewers and now we’re at 10 or something. It’s just grown hugely and I am always shocked by the reaction people have towards the programme, but it seems to be a genuine one and people actually love the show. They get behind their team members, they support their baker and they follow them all the way through. It’s such great fun doing the programme, it really is.
It’s gripped seven-year-olds to 87-year-olds and I find that incredible. It’s very rare that programmes like that happen.
What sort of impact has the show had on baking in general?
I think generally baking in this country has got much better anyway over the years but what we’ve done is highlight what we’re good at, because I think we’ve always been great bakers. Whether it’s from your nan, mum, dad or brother, when you think back you’ve got a bake you remember from when you were a kid. I could be a Soreen loaf, a ginger cake, biscuits, a sandwich or a sponge sandwich, but it’s something you remember. I think what we’ve done is harness that and put it in a tent and people like it, so we’re onto something!
What about the process of judging amateur bakers on the show. Is it a difficult thing to do?
I judge people’s bakes on what I like but I know what it should be like so they can’t really hide from that. I just say it as it is. If they don’t like it then unfortunately I’m the judge!
Have you ever come across a contestant on the show who has created something you wish you’d thought of?
I haven’t met one yet but we’ve done so many shows that they have been repeated. When you’ve been in the industry for as long as I have very few things are a surprise anymore, but I think that when they nail it is when they surprise me; when they come out and do something that’s so professional that it tastes and looks so good, that’s what gets me. This year has been awesome; they were almost all professionals before they’d even started.
Have you got a highlight or stand-out experience from your time as a TV baker?
We’ve just finished filming Celebrity Bake Off, which comes out next year, and I think that’s been the most memorable ‘Bake Off’ I’ve ever been attached to. I can’t tell you who’s in it but I think when you’ve seen the line-up next year you’ll understand and that was certainly my most memorable time in the tent.
Does the celebrity version give a whole different experience given they’re people who might never bake ever, as opposed to enthusiasts?
Well yeah they don’t but they knew who we were and they were heroes of mine before. They come on saying ‘I’m really scared of you’ and I’m like ‘I watch you all the time!’ I find that slightly odd, how do they know me?!
Bread is one of your specialities, so what is your all time favourite bread sandwich?
I would probably say that one of my favourite breads, when made well, is a good baguette. It’s very difficult to beat a good baguette; I just think it tastes so good just with butter.
You mentioned in a recent episode of Great British Bake Off that in your lifetime you’ve made 30,000 doughnuts. What was the most unusual one you’ve ever made?
We didn’t make unusual ones, they were all jam. There was nothing special about them but I like to think each one of them was fantastic! The only special ones I did were for me when I used to inject about 10 times the amount of jam that should have gone in there and when you ate it, it was like a jam bomb, the whole thing just exploded! They were just normal jam doughnuts though but, for me, that’s one of my favourites.
For tickets to see Paul on his British Baking Live Tour, which visits the Auditorium at Echo Arena Liverpool on 16 November 2014, go to www.paulhollywood.com. His book, Paul Hollywood’s British Baking, is published by Bloomsbury, £25.